Beijing is all about Yao Ming today. He is on the front page of every Chinese newspaper, shown raising the “sacred” Olympic torch high as he trotted through the Forbidden City’s Duan Gate Wednesday, under the stoic gaze of that other national hero, Mao Zedong. There he is again on television, in all his 7-foot-6-inch glory, his Olympic uniform matching the crimson of China’s flag as he runs the final leg of the flame’s worldwide journey past masses of cheering spectators.
Perusing China’s state-controlled media, one has no idea that another Olympian was making headlines in the West, and indeed overshadowing Yao’s patriotic victory jog. Joey Cheek, the gold medal-winning speed skater and president of Team Darfur, a coalition of athletes working to bring attention to China’s links to the bloodshed in Sudan, had his visa revoked by the Chinese government hours before he was set to leave for Beijing.
China’s Foreign Ministry defended the move in a press conference yesterday, saying “the visa issue is a country’s sovereign affairs,” and was intended to “provide a proper, secure environment for people watching and attending the Games.” Meanwhile, Chinese media outlets have been quick to defend their country’s involvement in Africa. On Tuesday, the English-language newspaper, China Daily, ran an opinion piece titled, “Untainted picture of China’s Africa policy, highlighting China’s benevolent role in Africa.”
The article explains:
In fact, totally different from the brutal and bloody ways the Western colonists plundered African resources in the distant past, China’s cooperation with Africa in resource development nowadays, exactly as described in the country’s official white paper, China’s African policy, follows the principles of “reciprocity, mutual benefit and joint development” and is aimed at “helping African countries turn their advantage in natural resources into competitiveness and pushing African countries and regions toward sustainable development.
It goes on:
China began taking part in Sudan’s energy development in the mid-1990s. By the end of 2003, the country invested a total of $2.7 billion in Sudan, laying 1,560 km of oil pipelines, building an oil refinery with an annual processing capacity of 2.5 million tons of crude oil and a number of gas stations. These projects not only turned Sudan from an oil importer into an exporter but also gave Sudan an oil industry setup complete with prospecting, production, refining, transportation and sale operations. China also spent more than $20 million helping Sudan build domestic installations such as schools and hospitals.”
There is no attempt to address the darker side of China’s involvement in Africa, or its support of Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has been accused of genocide by the International Criminal Court.
China’s hunger for Africa’s natural resources, in fact, stretches beyond Sudan’s borders. According to a July 2007 article in Vanity Fair by Sebastian Junger (unfortunately not online), “China has been investing hundreds of billions of dollars in pariah regimes… then selling them the weapons to stay in power.”
It is telling that China Daily would use the word “untainted” in its headline. Nothing gets published in China without approval from the government’s censors, and it is commonplace to find straight news articles littered with “opinion guidance” language (as president Hu Jintao calls the Communist Party’s efforts to mold the public’s views), such as labeling certain banned religious groups as “evil cults.” A major component of this coverage is the muting of any reference to news and information that might tarnish the government’s policies, and especially the Olympics.
Watching today’s Olympic coverage here, which can easily be found on TV screens set up in the city’s bars and popular shopping districts, Joey Cheek gets no play. Lost in the screams of delight over the Olympic torch’s arrival in Beijing are the screams of those suffering in Darfur. Cheek isn’t even advocating an Olympic boycott. Rather, he wants the world’s leaders to pressure Sudan into an Olympic truce during the Games, following a tradition that dates back to ancient Greece.